A Curmudgeon Who Seldom Has Anything Good to Say

After reading Our Unprotected Heritage, I wanted to read more about this Tom King who paints a very bleak picture about the corruption and all around bad structure of historic preservation rules and regulations. Looking on his website, it is obvious that Tom King is the guy who likes to “go there.” Nothing is left unscathed.

He does not hold back his disillusionment with protection laws in his book Our Unprotected Heritage– in the preface alone, any ideas of success are shot down with phrases like – with 40 years of increasingly bitter experience, there is not much you can do, sham, legal landmines. Throughout the book, King mentions that he has a lot of experience, but that the average Joe cannot afford him. One quip mentions that his opponents had consultants who were much more expensive than King was. So, yes, this book is a downer.

Despite that, the point that King makes about Section 106 – where studies need to be made to show the long-term effects of a project, and how the system is flawed, is very unsettling. So, if I get this right, a project needs to have an EIS before it can begin.   That is the law. But, the consultants who write the EIS work for the project manager.   What kind of dog is going to bite the hand that feeds it?   And as King describes heavy handed tactics used by agencies to get what they want despite the will of the people, no wonder King wants everyone to be upset.   By the time the book ends, I was left with the impression that the feds’ sole purpose is to meet in dark, smoky rooms and figure out ways to screw over the American public.

Yet, the book is interesting in that he gives a history of how laws, such as historic preservation and environmental were instituted as public attitudes began to value natural and man-made environments and the laws in place to protect them.

Could Section 106 be all bad?  I wanted to find out if there was any scrap of positive projects.  The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is getting ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Section 106, which will take place next year.   On their website, there is a list of “success” stories which range from the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in 2014 to the story of the repurposing of the Auditor’s building into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The website is pretty interesting, take a look.

holocaust

http:/http://www.achp.gov/docs/Section106SuccessStory_HolocaustMuseum.pdf

It is interesting to see the ACHP’s view of the controversy surrounding the African Burial Ground in New York City after reading about it in the book.

burial ground

http:/http://www.achp.gov/docs/Section106SuccessStoryABGv5.pdf

There we have it – two extremes.   One side grumbling about everything that is wrong, the other not really acknowledging negative things that happened during the building of the projects.  I guess we have to take things with a grain of salt – and be prepared for a fight if we go into this line of work.

 

 

Tour Guides and Misinformation

Lesson of the week: If you use the Sons of Confederate Veterans as your main historic resource, you’re gonna have a bad time.

“What is the obligation of a public historian when the history you are presented at a historic site is not right? Do you smile and nod? Politely correct the presenter? “

I actually did correct a tour guide once (about infant skulls & how the bones fuse together). It was awkward and spoiled the rest of the tour. However, Larry Cebula’s publicly posted e-mail dialogue is an equally terrible way to go about correcting erroneous historic information. Sure, he states in the comments that he hoped his “tone” was okay, but that concern is sort of negated by the fact that he publicly posted the e-mail and its (equally unprofessional & totally unreadable) response. Edit: Apparently all the names were pseudonyms. Whoops!

Internet & professional etiquette aside, I do believe it is our important duty to help correct our fellow historian’s work. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the key in doing so is to not treat the error-maker like they’re a total buffoon.

A decent person would welcome the constructive criticism and/or help. They would adjust their research as needed or, at the very least, explain why they have chosen not to make your suggested changes.

A non-decent person is not  worth wasting your time correcting. If, for example, I tried to have a conversation with  Sons of Confederate Veterans or  the National Center for Constitutional Studies I would probably be met with hostility. No ground would be gained. These people are too far gone.

With my decent person theory in mind & having just read the piece about the Virginia textbooks, I know what you’re probably thinking, “If we don’t nip this bad information in the bud, then it’s going to get into our children’s textbooks!”  A couple thoughts: 1) Perhaps having an incorrect textbook isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It could provide an opportunity to teach kids the importance of not assuming everything written is true. This is a critical skill, especially in an age where kids are participating in online discussions at earlier ages than their predecessors. 2) Perhaps instead of instantly jumping on  the Virginia textbook author’s, Joy Masoff, case the PhD’s quoted in the article could have volunteered their time and expertise to help with the next edition of the book.

History Works

These pieces had so many quotable lines, and definitely addressed the trepidation that many experience with engaging the public as either an academic or public historian. For me, they reaffirmed the idea that history work can be engaging, active, important, and affect change in societal power structures.

Chauncey DeVega said that “history does political work,” and that “memory is a function of power.” This was especially true to the idea of perpretating myths of the Civil War in the Sons of Confederate Veterans “celebrations” that DeVega was writing about, but also pertained to the articles on false claims of black confederates in elementary textbooks, Cebula’s example of “bad history” at the Baron Von Munchausen house, and our past discussions on reenactments. These mindful and devoted public historians are doing great work to dispel the idea that false history is harmless or not important/impactful enough that there is a need to correct it. The most powerful article in the vein of history accomplishing political work was the one on fracking, in which Robinson noted the urgency in this particular instance of “using the past to challenge systems of exploitation and power.” The fracking article reinforced our earlier realization that NRHP protection doesn’t always amount to much, and for me emphasized the value of regional memory in addressing local issues. The million dollar question Robinson presented was “How can historians and publics use the power of the past to catalyze social change?”

I read the New York Times article detailing more information on the Sons of Confederate Veterans event, and it raised an interesting point I hadn’t considered before. It noted that “commemorating the Civil War has never been easy. The centennial 50 years ago coincided with the civil rights movement, and most of the South was still effectively segregated, making a mockery of any notion that the slaves had truly become free and equal.” This highlighted the inanity that Civil War commemoration is so rampant now, when a short 50 years ago it was taboo, for obvious reasons. How is it that our national memory is so short that we can’t contextualize these “commemorations” now, but 50 years ago, at the centennial celebration, the implications of the history were so obvious? Admittedly, there was a congressional centennial commission in charge of the events, which “lost credibility when it planned to meet in a segregated hotel.”

Cebula’s piece was a surprising read for me, not because of the fact that small house museums are rampant  with historical inaccuracy or glossing over of the unfortunate truths, but in the nature of the seemingly harmless myths that the museum was perpetrating, and the fact that they were 5/10 of the Colonial Williamsburg foundation’s myths that should be dispelled. I wondered at how these almost trivial “facts” about colonial times have been repeated over the years. Of course most people would find these untruths a bit of harmless fun, some trivia for visitors, but the fact that docents and interpreters would willingly impart false information goes entirely against the entire purpose of historical institutions serving the public as they do. Not that the unpaid, volunteer docents were doing so maliciously or even knowingly, as Cebula acknowledged, but the director’s response did surprise me in its unwillingness to acquiesce to anything Cebula pointed out. Of course, we can’t expect every text book author, museum docent, historical house manager, etc., to be a trained historian, but when engaging with historical work I believe we must hold them to the same standard that historians hold themselves and their peers to. I would think that there would be a certain review process to vet out the incompetent/false histories, but as a commentator on Cebula’s first article pointed out, there are state historical museums in Wisconsin (and other states closer to home *cough*) that haven’t updated their exhibits in 50 years that may do a decent job at interpreting a now outdated historical understanding. I guess my main point is that new generations of museum educators, curators, exhibit designers, and academic and public historians at large, have plenty of work to do. To answer Robinson’s question, doing history always has the innate opportunity to catalyze social change, if done vigilantly and to the greatest standard possible, especially if it works to include “both the diversity of opinion and the question of specifically politicized values into our public history work.”

Who is to blame?

I was fascinated  by the villains (too harsh a label? …I think not) in this week’s readings…so I google stalked them.

Patricia Pangloss, the manager of the Baron Von Munchausen Historic House, is painfully absent from the internet. The Historic House doesn’t even have a website. The biggest hit on her name was the Larry Cebula article. Like the rest of you, I was infuriated by her response to Cebula’s open letter. Particularly by the assertion that, “You have to understand the younger visitors know very little about the Revolutionary War period, due to the
fact that the schools have gone downhill and do
not give this generation a good education …The
younger students can barely start a sentence
without the word “like, like” and continue to
ramble with the worst English imaginable…” 
Shouldn’t an educational facility strive to IMPROVE student’s education and confront historical inaccuracies, instead of promoting falsities because it is easier?

My search for Joy Masoff, the author of Virgina’s flawed textbook, was more fruitful. Her publisher’s website listed her biography as follows:

Joy Masoff, mother of two, fell into the world of gross when she became scoutmaster to a den of burping Cub Scouts, and then discovered that her Brownie troop has the same fascination with the feculent. She lives with her family in Waccabac, New York.

Jacketflap.com’s biography of Masoff:

Joy Masoff is a published author of children’s books and young adult books. Some of the published credits of Joy Masoff include All Better Now, Oh, Yikes!: History’s Grossest Moments, We Are All Americans: Understanding Diversity.

Hmmm. Not exactly the credentials that I would look for when seeking an author for a historical textbook that would help teach hundreds of thousands of students. Masoff is obviously the wrong candidate for this job, but I don’t believe the fault lies with her. She obviously did not complete impeccable research and failed to critically evaluate her sources. But how much can we really blame her? She is not a historian. She is a children’s book author. She used the Internet to research a contentious and serious matter and it came back to haunt her.

The real fault lies with the Virginia State Board of Education. The board chose to hire someone who could entertain students rather than educate them. As a daily user of textbooks, I can attest that K-12 textbooks are mostly bad. They are either far too boring and complex for student’s levels or far too juvenile and summarized. Until state boards of education begin to invest more money into the adoption of excellent textbooks (or better yet…hire and train outstanding teachers who don’t rely on textbooks), false education is going to continue to happen in America. Masoff clearly made a mistake in her book. But the true blame lies with the administrators who allowed a children’s book author to write a historical textbook.

“Not only is the Civil War not over; it can still be lost.”

In “They Have Blood on Their Hands,” Chauncey DeVega takes issue with those who would celebrate the 150th anniversary of the South’s secession from the Union.  The celebrants make the well-rehearsed claim that the Civil War was primarily about states’ rights with slavery being an incidental factor.  For the author this is history that “does political work,” untruthfully presenting the Civil War in the tradition of great debates over political liberty rather than what most reputable scholars deem it was, the South’s attempt to maintain white supremacy and economic prosperity through the enslavement of African-Americans.  Furthermore, those who would obviate slavery as the fundamental issue use “selective forgetting, and intentional remembering to advance certain ends in the here and now,” as Devega says.  Those ends serve a mainly older, white and conservative demographic, who struggle to cope with the dissonance of the inaccurate history they learned and the reality of a country becoming browner, where those who have been typically marginalized, increasingly decry the whitewashing of history.  The dominant version of US history, that many of us learned, was packaged as white, male, Christian, and as David Blight says in the Atlantic Monthly online, its gloss was a “romanticizing and sentimentalism” that allowed the defeated South to rewrite the history of the Civil War in exculpatory tones.  This Lost Cause made secession an easy history pill to swallow because the unpleasant truth was excised in favor of a sugarcoat that masked a willingness to treat people as property.  As Blight’s quote, used in the title of this week’s post informs us, the Civil War is still being fought and it is not a forgone conclusion that truth will overcome lies.

That a Virginia textbook states thousands of black people fought for the South, quoted in The Washington Post online, reminds us that there is a constant battle amongst some to either insert dishonesty, or perhaps more disturbingly, an effort by those who have been taught lies and wish to “correct” what they see as the distortions of others.  Am I naïve to be shocked that a school text book is not written by “a trained historian” but by someone who “has written several books.”  Or that the author’s examination of the subject was derived “primarily through Internet research.”  How did it get passed reviewers?  I can understand how it might seem innocuous to some to say ‘Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson,’ but wouldn’t someone on a review panel be either politically or historically astute enough to question that?

Larry Cebula’s post about his visit to the Baron Von Munchausen Historic Home, and the subsequent reply from its director was reminiscent of earlier readings from Slavery and Public History.  Again, we read of someone defending slavery’s omission from history in deference to the feeling of black people/students.  This speaks to the difficulty we have in discussing our past, particularly on those issues involving race or shameful actions.  I can understand how slavery might make an African-American feel angry or shameful, or uncomfortable and be painful to hear about.  However, if we avoid the conversation through euphemisms like “maid” or “servant” we perpetuate the lies that encumber our present.  And while we shouldn’t forget the positive aspects of our history—we have come a long way from Jim Crow—the director’s advice to stop focusing on negatives is a common complaint from those who want to believe an Emancipation Proclamation or Civil Rights Act cured overnight, as David Blight terms it, “the nation’s persistent racism.”

The Washington Post online story, “Conservative class on Founding Fathers’ answers to current woes gain popularity” describes a manifestation of white Christian conservative economic insecurity.  Because of the traditional hagiographical treatment of the Founding Fathers, they make ideal role models for those drowning in a sea of doubt.  Additionally, it is reassuring that they were white, wealthy grandfatherly types who were always on the cusp of banning slavery, but just could not figure out how to do it.  Or at least that is what some on the right would have us believe.  Ironically, the economic policies supported by conservative politicians and pundits have encouraged the widening wealth-gap that pushes lower or middle income people to scramble for answers in a world of uncertainty.  Rather than questioning the causes of their financial distress, many are happy to accept the scapegoating of immigrants, people of color and those who do not subscribe to their procrustean religious views.  So the snake oil salesperson’s tells us to learn from the Founding Fathers, whose feet of clay have been sanitized, their deism has been defenestrated, their elitism leveled and their slaves freed.  Of course, the snake oil salesman has to be careful, because after all, the Founding Fathers did rebel when they felt their economic interest was threatened to a particular degree.

Jeff Robinson asks, “How can historians and publics use the power of the past to catalyze social change?” in his Public History Commons post.  Can those who decry fracking use the lands’ history as a tool to persuade their neighbors to resist selling their property to oil and gas companies?   Seriously, if someone offered you five million for your fifty acres could you resist?  Apparently many do, and in this Robinson sees the power of history harnessed to the yoke of public activism.  He also theorizes about getting people of opposing views to sit down together, to talk through their point of view, in order to reach compromise.  This made me wonder about the nature of compromise.  Is compromise always a good thing?  Or is it just the best that we can expect in an imperfect world?  If some places are saved isn’t that better than none?  If some human rights are respected isn’t that better than none?  Perhaps compromise is not always the best route.  Maybe reframing the question and removing false dichotomies are a better place to start before compromise is attempted.

My blood was boiling….but Marc Bloch helped me

Post for 4/14/15

I think my blood boiled on most of these…
And it all brought back the Lynne Cheney effort to “set historical teaching right…”

For my irate tangent, see these:
Lynn Cheney’s moves toward sanitized history education and leftist brain-washing – read this by Paul Gottfried http://www.commdiginews.com/politics-2/guidelines-for-teaching-history-24411/

Lynne Cheney and Gary Nash: Teaching a PC version of History
Read more at http://www.commdiginews.com/politics-2/guidelines-for-teaching-history-24411/#XvUhe0hbwdl4z7i6.99

And this NY Times article, History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past- by Gary B Nash, Alfred A Knopf – NY https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/n/nash-history.html

Some quotes: “Cheney also charged that the U.S. History Standards presented a “grim and gloomy” portrayal of American history. Why so much attention, she asked, to topics such as the Ku Klux Klan and McCarthyism? “Citing other teaching examples rather than the standards themselves, Cheney found six references to Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who used the Underground Railroad to rescue scores of other slaves. In contrast, such white males as Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee were mentioned only one and zero times, respectively. The standards give no hint, she complained, “of the spell-binding oratory of such congressional giants as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.” And Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, and the Wright brothers, she claimed, “make no appearance at all.”
“What went wrong?” Cheney asked. Cheney concluded her Journal attack with a call to arms. National certification of these standards, she warned, must at all cost be blocked or “much that is significant in our past will begin to disappear from our schools.” She urged that the standards be stopped in their tracks because they were the rubbish produced by an “academic establishment that revels in . . . politicized history.”

My favorite Nash quote of the article: “History does matter, and it is important for Americans at the end of the twentieth century to understand how the recent history wars have unfolded, how these struggles are connected to earlier arguments over interpreting the past, and what this tells us about the state of our society…contention over the past is as old as written history itself, that the democratizing of the history profession has led to more inclusive and balanced presentations of American and world history, and that continuously reexamining the past, rather than piously repeating traditional narratives, is the greatest service historians can render in a democracy.”

OK, sorry for the rant…now to my comments abut the readings…

• DeVega Blog: “They Have Blood on Their Hands: The Sons of Confederate Veterans”

Secession Ball- I was horrified at the invitation: “a joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink.” Public announcements can be devastatingly revealing: ignorance, or arrogance?

I identified with his thought that “History does political work. As a corollary, memory is a function of power, selective forgetting, and intentional remembering to advance certain ends in the here and now.” This gave me room to think both about politics and memory – and the power of both. Sometimes, they lead us to forget or remember erroneously.

The NY Times link with comments by Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina N.A.A.C.P. addressed the more terrible thought: “I can only imagine what kind of celebration they would have if they had won,” and was dumbfounded by “all of this glamorization and sanitization of what really happened.” The terrible facts of slavery and human chattel should be indelibly seared in everyone’s history – not just a select few, and not skewed by select memories or belief systems…

• The Virginia 4th grade textbook story by Kevin Sieff in the Washington Post, Oct 2010
My question: Who is responsible for truth in history?
Misrepresenting history is even more of a danger when it is aimed at schoolchildren, with moldable minds and very often, parents or caregivers who really don’t know what is happening in the classroom or in assignments. Or conversely, what power do “concerned and actively involved parents” have to question and rectify errors in historical memory that end up in the classroom? (“The issues first came to light after College of William & Mary historian Carol Sheriff opened her daughter’s copy of “Our Virginia” and saw the reference to black Confederate soldiers.” “It’s disconcerting that the next generation is being taught history based on an unfounded claim instead of accepted scholarship,” Sheriff said. “It concerns me not just as a professional historian but as a parent.”) It seems to me that parents must educate themselves, and they must help in accountability for truth. Sadly, I fear, many do not know enough to be able to assume this role. So, then, who is? Great discussion thoughts….

• NW History “Open Letter to the Curators of the Baron Von Munchausen Historic Home” by Larry Cebula, 2010 (two reads)

I just cringed at this!!! I think this letter shows the need for honest and constant debate in the teaching of history. (Thank you, Mandy, Michelle, and Dr M-B!)

Good for Mr. Cebula calling out poor history, misinformation…but, respectfully so.
I can’t image what the reply wuld have been if he not been so kind with his words.

This discussion of “the biggest problem with the interpretation at the Baron Munchausen House was the absence of slavery,” and then the “sayings” origins that were inaccurate elicited three thoughts from me:
– The perpetuation of myths is something anyone can be guilty of. I probably have done the same thing…BUT if you are in apposition of interpreting the past for the public, and schoolchildren, you are responsible for historical accuracy. It would be fine if the myths were called out as myths, but to purposely repeat myths or distort the truth is just not acceptable in the public arena.

– The issue of docents and volunteer training is also very important. I know not every volunteer is watched carefully, but proper education and training should be required in all public forums. This won’t tackle the whole problem, but it could help tremendously, and it can put hose who tend to veer form the truth on notice that it’s unacceptable.

– The need for updating: The Wisconsin State Historical Society story about out-of-date Native American history and the Idaho Historical Society’s ancient exhibits call to mind the fact that today, public historians MUST be current, vigilant, and yes, participatory, so that at least the vocal visitors can set the record straight.

Lastly, “You as a Professor should stop bringing into the 21st century all this negativism.” I could not believe this reply that was sent to Mr. Cebula!
The “hateful subject” was cruel. It also was hateful. Perpetuating that by avoiding it, or by disguising it as a kind and benevolent action is just ludicrous.

I liked this Blog reply: I certainly look forward to teaching “World History 101 (No Negativity: only the nice bits)”

• Washington Post article – Conservative class on Founding Fathers’ answers
By Krissah Thompson, Washington Post Staff Writer , Saturday, June 5, 2010

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/04/AR2010060404918.html?sub=AR

Made my blood boil again!! The thought of people inculcating young, impressionable minds is just reprehensible. I guess that is how Hitler trained his youth, or how cults do the same with children. I don’t want to tread to much on religion, but it surely has been used for centuries to propagate hatred, fear, and misinformation.
“We’re trying to flood the nation . . . and it’s happening,” said Taylor, 63, a charter school principal….and “That led him in 1995 to create Heritage Academy, a public charter school where he teaches American history. He has a master’s degree in Christian political science from Coral Ridge Baptist University in Florida, an unaccredited school.”
Can someone tell me about the state of American charter schools, or home-schooling?

And then, politics and history again…
“Inspired by conservative commentator Glenn Beck, Republicans, home-school groups and people affiliated with militias. Here in Springfield, the day’s students sipped coffee and chewed on peppermints while seated at folding banquet-hall tables. They included a lawyer, a farmer, a local politician and a project manager for a construction company. Except for one man, all of them were white. Most were middle-aged, and there was nary a Democrat to be found.”
!!!! I was bouncing off the walls with this excerpt, and the ties between politics, militias, and the search for political purity (is that code for racist?): “Taylor spun stories of Benjamin Franklin as a praying man who wept after signing the Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson as a conflicted soul who wished to abolish slavery but because of his benevolence was reluctant to free his own slaves. “If you’ve been to Monticello and you see how Jefferson cared for them, they didn’t want to leave,” Taylor told the class. He avoided what he called “negative stuff” about the Founders’ “supposed immorality.”

• Jeff Robinson, 2012 Public History Commons

http://publichistorycommons.org/dont-frack-our-history-using-the-past-for-environmental-activism-in-northeastern-pennsylvania/

This was perceptive: Locals have no choice but to look to their history for answers, resources, and inspiration, no matter what side of the debate they’re on.

• The Civil War Isn’t Over, Atlantic Article
“150 years after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Americans are still fighting over the great issues at the heart of the conflict,” by David Blight. April 8, 2015

“Over time, the Civil War became the subject of great romanticization and sentimentalism in cultural memory. No one can grow up anymore at their Civil War veteran grandfather’s knee, learning deeply mythic stories of the Blue and the Gray, or hearing of slavery times from a formerly enslaved grandparent….The Civil War epoch has always resonated as a family affair for many Americans, transmitted through the generations.” This made me reflect on the importance of oral transmission, and generational perspectives being passed along…

The “Past and present are always utterly interdependent.”
What a great application of this thought, correlated to Marc Bloch, history’s founding father: “Misunderstanding of the present,” wrote Bloch, “is the inevitable consequence of ignorance of the past. But a man may wear himself out just as fruitlessly in seeking to understand the past, if he is totally ignorant of the present.”

YES. OK, it took Marc Bloch to help me re-center.

Politics, Education, and Idiots.

“History does political work. As a corollary, memory is a function of power, selective forgetting, and intentional remembering to advance certain ends in the here and now.” (DeVega). The truth in this statement is astounding. This piece and the two Washington Post pieces reflect the issues that arise when political issues infiltrate history, and history education in particular. By turning the Civil War into a struggle over states’ rights, the narrative of the history is flattened and the people involved are forgotten. The denial of slavery as a major issue devalues the entire history of the Civil War. It becomes a half-story. I’m with DeVega: “I do not know if the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their related ilk are good people or bad. In fact, I could care less. All I want is a little honesty in how American history is taught and remembered.” Masoff and her ilk are bad people. They aren’t evil. But anyone who writes a textbook for children by using three unverified internet sources and can still sleep at night is not a good person. Also, how is this a defense: “As controversial as it is, I stand by what I write,” she said. “I am a fairly respected writer”? You may be a fairly respected writer of romance novellas, but that does not make your poorly researched history book anything other than fairly full of inaccuracies. So maybe that is a little harsh and it isn’t entirely Masoff who is to blame. The fact that a panel of educators read this book and thought “Hey, that all sounds pretty good” is extremely infuriating. “The book also survived the Education Department’s vetting and was ruled “accurate and unbiased” by a committee of content specialists and teachers.” What?! The other Washington Post article might make me despair even more than the state of Virginia’s idiotic panel of content specialists and teachers. Earl Taylor may actually be evil. “That led him in 1995 to create Heritage Academy, a public charter school where he teaches American history.” This is the type of charter school that leads to bad press about all charter schools. I read about this school last summer. The Skousen books, The 5,000 Year Leap and The Making of America both have heavy religious tones and teach what most people would consider a biased, racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic history of the United States. See either this Salon article or this Huffpost article for more information.

The interaction between Cebula and the manager of the Baron Von Munchausen historic home is a great example of one professional attempting to help another who is incapable of responding professionally. Having worked in a small historic house as a volunteer guide, I understand the stories that get passed from one generation of volunteers to the next. I feel this is usually harmless as they are normally anecdotal stories about past family members, not blanket statements about life during an entire historic period. Cebula addresses the issue we discussed a while back about the “servants” who kept the house running. In reading the manager’s response, it seems clear she missed or misunderstood most of his points. And then she blames the schools: “You have to understand the younger visitors know very little about the Revolutionary War period, due to the fact that the schools have gone downhill and do not give this generation a good education ..The younger students can barely start a sentence without the word “like, like” and continue to ramble with the worst English imaginable.” While her defense for not discussing slavery is because it is too hateful of a subject and that children would treat black children as slaves. How were you teaching about slavery?! It seems her institution isn’t much better than the schools she blames if she decides it would be better to sugar-coat history. The best part is that fact that the “Mission Statement” for her historic house is to both preserve history and educational projects. “It was very disturbing to us that these children would feel less of a person if we continued to banter about slavery….our “Mission Statement” for this house is to preserve our history, patriotic service and educational projects…Not to bring into the mix about a most heinous practice that existed over two centuries ago…I feel that bringing up a hateful subject would be cruel to the student, who would start hating the messenger ..details of cruelty is a subject most people with sensitivity do not want to hear about….So there you have it.” Yes, so there you have it…a terrible way to educate visitors and an excellent way to not preserve the past.

Now I will step down off my high horse on a soapbox. (Sorry).

If We Ignore Them, Will They Go Away?

Lately, there has been a lot of media attention in regards to the Sons of the Confederate Veterans.   Being that it is the anniversary of the end of the Civil War, it is interesting to see the war’s lasting legacy. The Sons claim that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights, and not over slavery.   They see the north as an entity that marched in, took over, and ruined the (ahem) good old days.

I wonder how much of this media attention is seen as antagonistic by the SCV’s and in a skewed way, encourages them to dig their heels in further. Though the articles are trying to show the fallacies of SCV thought and lack of serious scholarship, as well as the constant denial of the horrors that occurred during the Civil War era, I noticed tactics that were used in the articles that I could see would be condescending or hostile to the Confederate Sympathizer. These tactics, I feel, are counter productive and instead of educating, it creates deeper chasms between facts and the so-called romanticism of the memory of the antebellum south. For example, in the Blood on Their Hands article, the crossed out sentence calls the members of SCV a series of names, and in the Open Letter, the word facts presented in parenthesis, seems to me a way to make people who have a long history of feeling taken over by “outsiders” hold on to their views even more.

So, how do we help correct bad or misleading history without making things inadvertently worse? Cebula’s letter seems to have been written with the best intentions, backed up his claims with scholarship, and yet, the director of the historic home did not take kindly to the letter at all. The response, “You as a professor” is a great reminder to not write and send while angry.

Is a STEM or a Liberal Arts Education better for employment?

If you have the time, this article makes some interesting points about the importance and value of liberal education over a hard-nosed focus on STEM education when thinking about employability and the US economic system.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-stem-wont-make-us-successful/2015/03/26/5f4604f2-d2a5-11e4-ab77-9646eea6a4c7_story.html